The Arts

Weaving the Threads of Jewish History

A unique and novel insight into Jewish culture has been made available with the recent publication of Jewish Carpets: A History and Guide by Anton Felton.  A long-time collector of this unusual form of Judaica, Mr. Felton displays in his book 100 individual carpets dating from the 14th century to the present day, woven in Israel, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria and the Ukraine.

In addition to historic and artistic background of the carpets, Mr. Felton provides valuable information to collectors, such as this remarkable tip on forgeries:

[Artificial ageing of carpets] was achieved by laying a rug on the road so that it was crossed and recrossed by humans, donkeys, camels and carts.  The rug would be shaken quite often and kept damp at all times so that the dust, detritus and ammonia would impregnate the weave.  Not surprisingly, one week of this treatment in the hot summer sun of Iran would put forty years on a rug.  Today, every hour a rug spends between two hot metal plates adds to its age — and hence to its price.

We may add that the 140 large, full-color pictures of the textiles and 20 black and white illustrations add to the attractiveness of the volume, and hence to its price of $69.50.  For art collectors or anyone with a taste for unusual Judaica, however, the price may be well worth it.  The book can be ordered from any bookstore, or can be obtained by calling the publisher, the Antique Collectors Club Ltd. at 1-800-252-5231.

King David’s Tower

This carpet originates from 1920s Jerusalem and  depicts Migdal David as it would be seen from the west, before reaching the Jaffa Gate.  The format is that of a Turkish prayer rug.  The flanking pillars and the base of the pictorial niche are decorated with a repetitive ornamentation, which may possibly have been derived from the Hebrew letter shin, which stands for Divinity.  This conjecture is reinforced by the fact that in the bottom two cartouches of the rug’s border, the mysterious ornament is derived by twisting together the letters for Jerusalem, with the letter shin playing the central role.  The arch framing the tower proclaims Tehillim 137:5-6: “Im eshkachech Yerushalayim, tishkach yemini…” (“If I forget you, oh Jerusalem, let my right hand wither…”)

The Song of Songs

Striking in its color scheme, this carpet originates from Jerusalem, circa 1920-1921.  Under a canopy of a palm trees bisecting a blue field (hinting at the outline of the Tablets of the Law), the rug displays an assortment of flora and fauna.  The outer guard strip is inscribed with the words “Shir HaShirim,” while the inner strip recites a verse from Shir HaShirim 2:12-13.

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba


This detailed mid-nineteenth-century rug originates from Kashan, Iran and unites Jewish and Persian cultures.  King Solomon is shown receiving the Queen of Sheba, identified by the verse in Hebrew from I Kings 10, which can be seen between them.  Beneath them are six steps, and on each step is a pair of animals, a predator and its prey, facing each other.  The elongated prayer niches on either side of the steps contain vases filled with many colorful flowers.  In the main border’s 29 panels, the designer summarizes the early history of the Jewish people, including the 12 tribes of Israel, the burial place of the Patriarchs and the tomb of Rachel.  At the bottom are two major synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem, the House of Jacob and the House of Israel, and along the border are two Biblical scenes: the Sacrifice of Isaac and the discovery of Moses in the bulrushes by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Between these two scenes is the Western Wall.

Undeciphered Hebrew

This late-nineteenth-century rug is from northwest Persia, and contains several words of Hebrew which have not, as yet, been deciphered.  This adds to the sense of mystery of its infinitely extending pattern.

Any reader who succeeds in deciphering the Hebrew wording is encouraged to share the information!  Write to Jewish Action, 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001.  Your finding will be relayed to the author — and your contribution will become a part of art history!

This article was featured in the Fall 1997 issue of Jewish Action.